Film & TV

Shooting Low-Budget Films

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 11:41 min

Discover Martin's experience with low-budget filmmaking collaborating with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Learn how to creatively get the shots you need, even under tight budget and schedule constraints.

Martin Scorsese
Teaches Filmmaking
In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.
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I felt that I had to learn how to make a picture faster, cheaper, and still have, still have the energy in the film. In fact, go further with a certain kind of camera move and cutting and this sort of thing. And when I first met Michael Ballhaus in-- Having had gone through a series of films up to about 1981, up to King of Comedy, and sort of the bottom fell out of everything after that. But I did meet Michael when we were preparing The Last Temptation of Christ in 1983 and I'd seen his Fassbender films that he had shot. And I wanted a sense of freedom with the camera again and freedom with light. In a sense, I felt that with the bigger productions from-- as this is not the director's of photography's issue. This had to do with how a film is made, the amount of people, the amount of equipment I wanted to get something trimmer and faster, you know. And so I felt I should go back to independent style of film making. And I saw the Fassbender pictures and then I followed up on that with meeting Michael. And we were going to make Last Temptation, but by the end of the year, the film fell through and we were out in the diaspora, so to speak, out of Hollywood, everywhere. And couldn't get a picture made. But finally, it was time to start all over again I felt. And we stumbled upon, I think it was Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne gave me the script of After Hours . And so I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again and also a project, of course, that I really responded to because of the nature of the story and the character being out of his element and being in a place where he couldn't believe anyone or anything, and he's sort of trapped. And I thought this was-- That's the way I felt, myself, at the time. And so I called on Michael again there. And that's the first time we really had the ability to work together. We shot it in 40 nights, averaging about 25 to 26 setups a night. And so Michael would be on the set and it was you know, downtown somewhere in the old Soho, which, at that time, was really isolated at night. There was nobody there. And I'd get there and I'd be kind of grumpy, concerned about getting everything done, proving to myself I can get something shot in a more efficient manner that still had everything I wanted. I'm not quite sure of this particular scene. And he would look at me and says, ah, but tonight, tonight we do the shot that begins on the chair, tracks up, goes around the face, comes over to the telephone, goes to the jukebox. I says, oh, you're right, you're right. Yeah, yeah, that's something-- See, we don't do it first. No, no. Of course not. We're going to do it a little later because I have certain lighting issues. OK. OK. But he gave me something to look forward to and brought back the excitement and the love of the process, you know. He said, look, we're going t...

Study with Scorsese

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Great class. Very motivational. I was pretty inspired by some of the themes that this class showed insight on. Despacito 2.

I will definitely need to review the class again to pick up anything I missed and to go over slowly in more detail, but so far the main thing is in helping to build my confidence and belief in my ability to make films, and also helped to switch on certain ideas in my head for laying out certain shots in a film I have in mind that I want to make.

Martin Scorsese is a genius. His bold non-compromising attitude and visionary creative mind will inspire you to get off your butt and create some art!

Totally inspired by Martin´s Masterclass!!! I´m learning a lot from him!! Thanks so much! Jose Torresma


Pétainguy M.

Last Temptation of Christ was difficult may be because of actors mind and their conception of religion ... more than low budget ? I experienced how inner resistances could make work more difficult ...

Monique B.

I took 10 months off from this course to direct and produce my first play and the lessons I learned from this class has been extremely helpful - especially the lesson on working with actors. I can't think of a better teacher than Scorsese. Wow! Anyway it's good to be back here in class. The same problems Scorsese experienced with actors and budget restraints are the same problems I faced. I had to replace an actor after rehearsal started because the actor I hired never showed up nor gave me the heads up that she wanted to quit the project. As far as getting funding, George Lucas once mentioned in an interview he had to finance his first short film by himself. So I figure I had to do the same. So I saved up 13 - 50 % of my paycheck bi-weekly for 2 years - working at a job that I hate (getting bullied and verbally abused by customers). Then, when it was time to put the play on, the play made no profit (I got 10% back of my initial investment). I don't regret it. Now I am working on my first feature film (a 90 minute animated movie). And if this film makes no money either - then so be it.

Ketzal M.

Not even Scorsese can get enough funding for some of his projects. And he's freaking SCORSESE!

Jo E.

Great Lesson…! Financing is important...time is money...! When you can be efficient and still get a quality film made that says a lot...!


All due respect, a 40 day schedule is "low budget?" Come on. And while I'm here, where was the research for Last Temptation? The depiction of crucifixion here is comical and idiotic. Even in regards to filmmaking and story telling. Real crucifixion was slow torture. The arms were completely spread out and the body was fully extended. Nails were put in the hands and feet for two reasons, the obvious, but also to make breathing extremely difficult. The person had to push up on his feet or hands in order to take a breath. The nails in the hands and feet made the simple act of breathing excruciating. Eventually, the person would not be able to hold up the weight of their own body. Crucifixion was very slow suffocation. They had them seated!

Avery D.

Another fantastic insight! It's comforting to know that even Mr. Scorsese has to accept the shots that he gets, remember to have fun, and make the best of the situation. I hope to take this advice into my next creative venture!

Robert A.

I now have a different perspective on low budget filmmaking. Great to know!!!. Thank you Martin!!!. Onward!!!.

Gene B.

Working on low budget-films is certainly tedious! But at the same time, in an independent and harder process, you appreciate the beauty of hard work in the process to create a film you desire. You do everything on your own and work with people that allow​ you to look forward to and excites you about the film and the beauty in its hardworking process.

Ross K.

I want to ask for some advice from the community. I really liked the advice of Martin Scrosese to draw the film shots but I'm terrible at drawing, just terrible. Could anyone recommend a software program where I can create scene characters (in a drawing style) and add additional things manually, so it will look decent for the film crew? What is the most advanced program to learn? I would really appreciate any advice on my question as I see the importance of visualization of every shot for better cooperation with other people in order to shoot a good film.

Mia S.

"Him, my AD, my producer sitting in a small room five days before shooting the scene, going through all the shots, saying 'Instead of three days, we have two. So, what could we lose?' It became 50 shots - 25 and 25. We got them all. How he did that was something referring back to what he did with Fassbender, where I think a few days into shooting, Fassbender fired the lead actor and then took the role himself, so they had to reshoot everything they had shot for those three days in one day and night. How they worked it out was timing so that, for example, in the crucifixion scene, the first shot we would give 10 minutes. The fourth shot was a little more complicated - 15. If it goes to 17, we have to move on, accept what we have. There was one shot, the camera twists and turns, he says, 'That is 45 minutes.' And that's how we did it. Literally, within that 10 minutes - I used to call it 'quality time' - we'd be intent on getting what we needed to get. Or if not, shooting an extra two takes, squeezing it in to figure it out later - certain elements of the different takes, which one I'll go with in the editing; that was a very logical and passionate way of going about it, saying, 'We're going to get it, but we have to combine these 75 shots into 50. We'll have 35 set ups a day.' The thing was like a commando group - we got there in the dark, and the moment light broke, we started shooting immediately. It was like being in a battle of some kind, very physical. He always made it clear to me about the value of what we were doing in that particular shot or day. So what to go for, what to emphasize - 'go for', where to put the energy and what to look forward to. He was very clear about - he didn't really say 'This is the way this film has to be made,' but he kept saying, 'We will make it.' I kept knowing that everything was being taken away, the script was being changed, there were lots of production problems, but he would look at me and say, 'We're going to finish it.' Whether we did or not ultimately doesn't matter, it's how we got through each day of the skirmishes and the battles to make the picture."